Giving Thought: There is middle road to follow through pandemic
At the core of our country’s struggle with the Coronavirus pandemic is the delicate balance between “locking down” for health and safety reasons and “opening up” for economic and social reasons.
Whatever your politics and whatever your personal views on the matter, we can all agree that it’s a challenging balance to strike. When everyone in a community shelters in place, all commerce and social activity stops, which suppresses the spread of the virus at the expense of economic health and human contact. But if a community opens up too quickly, then the virus spreads, hospitals get overcrowded and more people get sick. To date, the virus has killed more than 130,000 Americans and 1,700 Coloradans.
In Pitkin County, at least, we are fortunate to have leaders who see both sides of this tricky equation. Our local officials are working diligently to both safeguard public health and to enable businesses and individuals to open their doors and enjoy the delights of summer in the mountains.
Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock has been at the center of this tug-o-war for several months and, despite the numerous challenges, he has a road map that leads, if not to normalcy, then at least to relative stability. The strategy represents a balance between complete lockdown and complete freedom; it calls on residents and visitors to “live with the virus” by observing certain now-familiar rules while also going about their lives inside and outside the home.
“If we’re not going to hide from the virus (by staying at home), then we’ve got to learn to live with it,” Peacock says. “So, as a community, we need to commit to not allowing this virus to reach the point where we have to shut down again.”
Think of it as “boxing in” the virus or containing the virus enough that local hospitals and clinics aren’t overwhelmed. If locals and visitors can follow five simple commitments, Peacock says, then he believes the community can keep the virus at bay and not lock down again, as people in Arizona, Texas and Florida have been forced to do.
The five commitments are simple: Frequent hand washing; wearing a mask in public; maintain social distance; stay home if sick; seek testing if you have symptoms.
“If we can follow these five commitments, we will limit the spread (of the virus),” Peacock says.
Four of these commitments are probably familiar already, but the fifth is equally crucial to the “box it in” strategy. If we’re willing to accept a few coronavirus cases in our midst as the price of a more open society, then those who have symptoms must get tested. And, if they’re found to be infected, they must cooperate with public-health authorities to identify who else might have come into contact with the infected person.
“When we move from virus suppression to living with the virus, infections do go up,” Peacock explains. “These commitments are small acts of courage to get some freedoms back and keep them.”
Yes, this is risky. Any opening of society during a pandemic presents a new risk of infection, and that risk is heightened in a valley that welcomes visitors from around the country and even the globe. However, if locals and guests can honor these commitments for one another, then we minimize the risk.
Pitkin County has a robust COVID-19 web page where readers can see all the latest statistics, including the number of cases in Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties, the status of beds at Aspen Valley Hospital and a weekly summary of COVID-19 testing results. Go to covid19.pitkincounty.com.
As this crisis evolves, I am continually grateful to live in a community where public officials are treating this pandemic like the emergency it is and making sound decisions based in fact and genuine care for their constituents. It’s not a cliché to repeat it: We are all in this together.
Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of Aspen Community Foundation.
In 2019 Aspen’s electorate approved a contentious ballot issue by a 26-vote margin that paved the way for the 81-room Gorsuch Haus project. The hotel was to be part of a major redevelopment at the base of Aspen Mountain’s west side that is also slated to include a new ski lift and ski museum.
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